Religious motive touted for hostage murders

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The bodies of three women hostages found in Yemen are believed to show signs of torture and extensive mutilation, it emerged yesterday as security officials investigated whether the reasons for the killings were religious rather than purely political.

Two of the murdered women belonged to a Bible school in Germany and had links with a Baptist charity operating in Yemen. The third victim was a Korean who worked for an aid organisation with religious affiliations.

Diplomatic sources said that the savage way the murders were committed did not conform to hostage-taking scenarios associated with a local Shia group, the Houthis, who the Yemeni authorities are blaming, or al-Qa'ida and their associates, who the Americans say have been infiltrating the country. Yemen also announced a $25,000 reward for information on the fate of six hostages, including a Briton, who were taken with the women.